Behind the Early Federal Election Call

August 16, 2021 Updated: August 17, 2021


Before the puzzling early federal election call in Canada, people paid to ask “What is this election about?” asked “What is this election about?” And the answer is: “Justin Trudeau.”

Some of Trudeau’s less than admirable traits have contributed, including preferring making promises to keeping them. But they are neither unique to him nor sufficient to create the situation. Rather, it shows our constitutional deterioration from limited self-government to plebiscitary populism that elects a “man on horseback.” Thus newspapers profile “The Men Who Would Be PM” not “The Issues That Matter” and skip anyone who, like Maxime Bernier, is not a populist.

Populists have a reputation as big-bellied pseudo-conservatives who substitute vulgar anger for principle. But populism was, and is, primarily the home of left-wing demagogues who want the popular will to prevail on all questions including, crucially, handing out free money in ways no genuinely conservative party desires and no authentically limited government can. And the parties’ differences on issues, from deficits to Afghanistan, are now so tiny it would be hard to vote on anything besides personalities or lack of same. Hence the Tories’ childish Veruca Salt ad.

Tell me which party leader said, “This is a pivotal moment in history. Now, we have a chance to revitalise the economy with a robust green recovery plan that will transition Canadian workers to the clean economy of the future while forging a just society in which all Canadians can live with dignity.” But we did not get here by accident.

Consider that fixed election dates were meant to prevent opportunistic election calls. But with storm clouds looming, from runaway spending to surging inflation to a fourth pandemic wave to ominous geopolitical problems, Trudeau wants to lock in a majority while the sunny ways are shining so he can continue to govern without let or hindrance should the rains come. And of course he can, law be hanged.

Canada’s 2007 fixed election law was always a nostrum for three reasons. First, we already had constitutional limits on how long parliaments can sit (S. 50 and five years). Second, no parliament can bind its successor by statute. And third and most important, it misunderstood what parliament and by extension elections are for.

Proper elections happen for three reasons. First, the ministry loses the confidence of the sitting House of Commons, and no potential successor can obtain it. Second, the five years allotted for a parliament elapse. Third, the ministry faces a vital unexpected question on which it commands the confidence of the House, but it is doubtful that the House commands the confidence of the nation because it was not elected with that issue in mind. All three, crucially, depend on parliament not the executive having a popular mandate and the ministry holding office only as long as the lower elected house in particular extends it to them.

I describe the Westminster system, adopted here with the addition of federalism and a written Constitution limiting what the entire government can do even if executive, legislature, and judiciary are united. But we no longer have such a system. Now we think we elect the prime minister. So we do.

It is currently unthinkable that a governor general appointed by the monarch for their understanding of and fidelity to our system might reject election timing jiggery-pokery. Instead, a governor general appointed by the prime minister for their symbolic value on a pressing issue is so docile that two parties put out press releases about the election call and statement before Trudeau even strutted to Rideau Hall, including one that could precipitate a proper dissolution but won’t.

Likewise, it would be fatuous to suggest we are about to run an election on some specific promises from Team Trudeau, including whatever his current policy on mandatory vaccination happens to be. Not only because of his trail of broken pledges, from first-past-the-post to indigenous boil-water advisories to balanced budgets to open government. Because if “re-elected” Trudeau will be essentially unchecked, by parliamentary budget procedures or committee inquiries, his cabinet, ethics rules, or anything else.

We have not become a classic tyranny, despite a tinfoil hat shortage stretching back past Jeffrey Simpson’s 2011 “The Friendly Dictatorship.” But we have become a tyranny of the majority. And since one cannot determine or even sample majority opinion on every issue, and popular sentiment tends not to aggregate to a coherent whole with resources adequate to demands (formerly the ministry’s particular job), that system always means an autocrat wields the full powers of the state until the next election.

In Canada, those powers do not include arbitrary imprisonment and torture. But if the public is complicit or indifferent, they are very sweeping, including infringing freedom of speech and worship. And the only election question is: “Who gets to ride the horse?”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

John Robson
John Robson
John Robson is a documentary filmmaker, National Post columnist, contributing editor to the Dorchester Review, commentator-at-large with News Talk Radio 580 CFRA in Ottawa, and executive director of the Climate Discussion Nexus. His most recent documentary is “The Environment: A True Story.”